Forever My Girl, which opens this week, is a tame, PG-rated romantic drama about a country music star’s homecoming that’s aimed at primarily teenage audiences. Unfortunately, critics say it isn’t particularly good, even for its genre, so if you’re not particularly interested in the film, Christy Lemire offers up three alternatives that are probably quite a bit more satisfying, but also just mild enough to watch with your kids… depending on their age and maturity level.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements including drinking, and for language.
This bland, Nicholas Sparks-adjacent romance finds country music superstar Liam Page (Alex Roe) returning to his Louisiana small town and reconnecting with Josie (Jessica Rothe), the fiancée he left at the altar eight years earlier to pursue fame and fortune. It’s all about forgiveness, reconciliation and insipid music, with an adorable little girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) at the center. Writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf’s film has some picturesque images of the bayou, and Roe and Rothe are sufficiently pretty, as well. But they don’t have much chemistry with each other, and many of the movie’s supposedly dramatic moments end up being unintentionally hilarious. Also, this is a decidedly PG-rated depiction of country-star excess, so Liam is only slightly surly and his major drinking problem consists of bringing a flask to a funeral. (He also visits the cleanest and most wholesome honky-tonk ever depicted on screen.) A child is briefly in peril. And before Liam sees the light, he wakes up in a hotel room with a groupie, but we don’t see any actual physical contact. This is a wholesome story of faith and redemption, suitable for viewers around 7 or 8 and older.
If Forever My Girl has you thinking about other movies set in the country music world you can watch with your family, here are a few suggestions:
I’m not saying it’s a great movie, but it’s a fine choice if you’re looking for something the whole family can watch, and Miley Cyrus does have her undeniable charms here. The singer/songwriter/provocateur was still clinging to the last vestiges of her innocent, Disney Channel image here, playing both small-town sweetheart Miley Stewart and her secret pop-star alter ego, Hannah Montana. Similar to Forever My Girl, Miley gets a little petulant and carried away with her celebrity lifestyle in Los Angeles. This prompts a return to Tennessee for some hometown reprogramming, courtesy of Cyrus’ real-life dad, country star Billy Ray Cyrus. Slapstick humor abounds down on the farm, and Miley finds her first boyfriend in a farmhand (Lucas Till) who was a childhood friend. And of course, because this is a Hannah Montana adventure, the movie is filled with music. The insanely catchy Hoedown Throwdown is admittedly a highlight, as is the power ballad The Climb. Fine for all ages.
Rating: PG, for adult situations/language and violence.
The gold standard for how to make a music biopic; everything else comes up short by comparison. Sissy Spacek rightly earned the Academy Award for best actress for her vivid portrayal of country music legend Loretta Lynn, and Michael Apted’s film received another six nominations, including best picture. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I watched Coal Miner’s Daughter when I was 8 years old, even though I realize in retrospect that I didn’t truly understand some of the more adult elements of the story. Spacek stars as Lynn from the time she was a 13-year-old girl growing up poor in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, all the way through her rise to country music superstardom. We see her marry her husband Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones) when she was 15 and he was 22 (including their awkward wedding night in motel room), play the Grand Ole Opry, become friends with her idol, Patsy Cline (Beverly D, Angelo) and give birth to multiple children. But the pressure of performing and touring while also juggling fame and family causes her to have a breakdown. We also witness Lynn’s devastation after Cline’s death in a plane crash. And Doolittle Lynn is a notorious drunk and womanizer – which was the inspiration for many of Lynn’s most enduring country hits. Spacek shows massive range her in portraying Lynn over several decades and she did all her own singing. This is a beautifully acted film with a rich sense of place. It hits the important moments of Lynn’s life but still feels like a full, complex story. I highly recommend it for viewers around 8 and older, especially if they have an interest in music or performing.
Rating: PG-13, for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency.
Another great music biopic and another Academy Award-winning film: this time for best actress Reese Witherspoon’s performance as June Carter Cash, the muse and longtime love of Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix also earned an Oscar nomination for his indelible role as the iconic, influential Cash. Director and co-writer James Mangold’s film may follow a familiar path along the way to country star greatness, from Cash’s youth on an Arkansas cotton farm and his early dabblings in music through his romance with singer June Carter and early dabblings in drugs. And of course, there are the eventual redemption and perspective that come with time and age. But Walk the Line features vibrant performances and tremendous energy. Phoenix and Witherspoon have ridiculous chemistry and, as Spacek did in Coal Miner’s Daughter, they performed their own songs and played their own instruments. But there’s even more grown-up material here, including adultery, significant drug and alcohol abuse, depression and language. Still, it’s a classic, and a fine choice for viewers around 13 and up. (And when your kids are older, you can show them the excellent and extremely R-rated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story, a dead-on parody starring John C. Reilly.)